IMAGINE YOUR COUNTRY has been attacked, intimidated and deliberately impoverished by the world’s most powerful nation for nearly 70 years. Now imagine that, in spite of everything the world’s most powerful nation and its allies have thrown at your country, it has remained standing, proud and unbowed. Further imagine that, through the efforts of its most astute and courageous military commander, your country’s power and influence has grown and spread in ways not seen for a thousand years. Finally, imagine that the world’s most powerful nation has just blown that military commander to pieces with a Hellfire missile.
How would you feel? What would you do?
Such was Iran’s dilemma.
The solution the Iranian Islamic Republic settled upon bears testimony to the wisdom born of the Iranian/Persian people’s three thousand year history. It drew its metaphorical sword, waited until the USA lifted its metaphorical shield, and then tossed its deadliest weapon contemptuously at the attacker’s feet. There are many kinds of sword and many ways to use them. If General Qasem Soleimani taught his people anything, it was always to fight the Americans and their allies on your terms – not theirs.
It is a lesson the rest of the world will also have to learn – and quickly. With the USA no longer interested in even trying to disguise its imperial ambitions, it has become necessary to tread extremely carefully on the international stage. Bold assertions of national sovereignty, especially in the form of passionate protests against US policy, are likely to be interpreted in Washington as acts prejudicial to the national security of the United States – and responded to accordingly. Small countries, like New Zealand, must be particularly circumspect, lest they be turned into an example of what happens to little states foolish enough to think they can ruffle the American Eagle’s feathers with impunity.
We all need to grasp the evolving reality of America’s economic, cultural and military vulnerability and how it is being manifested at home and abroad. The Trump presidency was no accident. How else was the potential eclipse of White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant privilege to be headed-off except by enlisting as many of the White working-class as possible in the struggle to preserve what is now openly presented as their common racial supremacy?
The vulgarisation of American politics matches perfectly the steady incorporation of the “poorly educated” (and the even more poorly paid) into the ranks of the Republican Party. Trump’s political genius has been to embrace and embody those values and prejudices which the best educated and best paid Americans most vehemently reject and despise. In the simplest terms: to become the most thoroughly deplorable specimen in Hillary Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables”.
This deliberate presidential embrace of wilful ignorance, crude racism and religious bigotry renders the task of maintaining the United States’ global ascendancy much easier. The need to dress up American self-interest in the rhetorical finery of a Kennedy or an Obama is no longer so pressing. While the USA is still able to wield unchallengeable military power its economic dominance will remain unassailable. The more obvious this linkage becomes, the more useful it is to present to the world the uncomplicated and unrepentant face of American hegemony. Trump’s insouciant truculence fits the bill nicely.
The White House ceremony (it would be wrong to call it a press conference) in which the President gracelessly accepted the Iranian Government’s de-escalation of the international crisis which he, himself, had unleashed by authorising Soleimani’s assassination, was a vivid illustration of the new reality in world affairs.
Thomas Jefferson’s acknowledgement in the American Declaration of Independence that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that [a people] should declare the causes which impel them” towards actions of historical significance, was nowhere in evidence. “Mankind’s” opinion of America and its diplomacy turns out to be about as relevant today as the United Nations’ Charter.
Trump’s admixture of threats, lies and vainglorious boasts was all “mankind” was getting. Having delivered his proclamation, the President and his bevy of bemedaled generals turned on their heels and left the room by the same high doors through which they had entered, which then closed insolently behind them. So, one imagines, did Roman Emperors pronounce upon the affairs of empire: briskly, brusquely, and with the just the right “sneer of cold command”.
When Iran’s secular, democratically-elected Prime Minister, Mossadegh, was deposed by the joint machinations of Britain’s MI6 and America’s CIA in 1953 (for the unforgiveable sin of attempting to use Iran’s oil for the benefit of Iran’s people!) their involvement was a closely guarded secret. Caught in the Manichean coils of the Cold War, the USA had to at least pretend to be the champion of freedom and popular sovereignty. Seventy years later, however, America doesn’t feel the need to even try. What the Iranian political class learned behind closed doors in 1953: that their country’s future was now in American hands; Donald Trump shares openly and unashamedly with the whole world in 2020.
And yet, the Shah imposed upon them in 1953 was himself deposed in the Iranian Revolution of 1978, and the present Islamic Republic proclaimed the following year. Nothing in this world lasts forever. Not Shahs; not Ayatollahs; not Generals: not even Presidents. It was the ancestors of present-day Iranians who invented the game of Chess. A pity then, for the American people, that Donald Trump has yet to master the game of Checkers.